“Poems as truth bombs”

Tonight's notes vs. last year's

Tonight’s notes vs. last year’s

10 September 2013
1:58 AM


Tonight’s live webcast is great! I am exhausted but my brain is still too full. I am hoping to write this all down before I succumb to sleep, but if you don’t get it in time, you have an idea why.

It’s lovely to see your notes on ModPo. Last year I filled up three notebooks! I suspect I’ll be adding inserts to that as I retake the class.

(Why do I feel so much like someone who is in high school? I want to ask you if I can photocopy your notes after the class, in exchange for mine. Ha.)

Last year, after watching just the introductory video lecture–I was renewed. It was that easy and quick: a spark of knowing, of being, and suddenly I am alive again. Yes, that’s what ModPo makes you feel: present.

I encourage you to visit the forums, as there is so much more going on there. The lectures are brimming with energy, but the forum is a different beast entirely. It’s a huge time-suck, yes. But oh, the rewards you’ll reap. There’s something satisfying and amazing with getting to know the perspectives of readers all over the world. Everyone brings something different because each of us has a unique history and background, and way of seeing things.

I’m interested at our parallels:

  • You have formally studied poetry. I have only attended two classes: one when I was a freshman in college, and this one.
  • This is your first time to attend ModPo. (I am assuming that even if you audited it last year, you may not have finished?) This is my second time.
  • I am a community teaching assistant, which lends another view of the class. Yet, in our personal life, between the two of us, you have the experience of being a teacher.

I’m excited at all the discussions we’re going to have as we move forward.

I really loved the discussion tonight about poems as truth bombs (I forgot who said this; I might have to go back and watch the webcast again). I can’t tell how many times I have found myself using poems as prayers because they speak so much of the truth, and of what I need (and was looking for).

I love the idea of poets weaving their words into this one thing–a poem, a device designed to explode, conditioned to do so once the circumstances are just right, just ripe, for the reader. I know you have felt that, one too many times–how reading a certain poem for that certain day feels so fucking apt; it’s as if you are made for this, or that this poem was made for you. I think it’s why poets continue to write; it’s why the world continues to turn and turn on its place, why the birds sing and why the sun rises, and why, simply, and with no agenda, life goes on–because the possibilities are endless.

In the webcast they said, “The possibility of poetry is indefinite for the writer and thus depends on the reader for completion.” I say, not only indefinite, but infinite.

Another thing I want to touch upon is this question: Is there a thing such as overreading? What are your thoughts on this?

When I was in college, I was taught to read poems with formalism as a guide. That is the only background that I have. Before I entered the university I don’t even have an idea what it is. Sometimes it irks me, to have that structure always looming over everything I read. Sometimes I feel grateful, because it helps separate the gem from the dreck. Sometimes it’s the root of all my anguish, because as a writer I feel I will never be able to write something that is “up to standard.”

Back then, we always have heated discussions about some people’s (probably includes me) tendency to overread. Do not bring your baggage to the poem, or, we must follow certain rules, or, your interpretation is wrong–that’s a common refrain. I never really knew how to stand up to this. One, I was young and impressionable, and two, because I was young and impressionable, I always assumed they were right and I was wrong.

You have no idea how freeing it feels, in this class. To be welcomed with the idea that what I feel and think might not be wrong. That it is possible that there is no right or wrong. Of course, not to say that I have entirely eschewed what I learned from before. I am merely saying that ever since ModPo, I have opened my arms wider. Ever since ModPo, I realised that there is still so much out there to know. Do you recall one of my letters to you last year, where I said that I felt my world really expand this time? It’s because of this class. I have never felt more limited where I live than when I experienced being in a global classroom and realised that there is so much more out there than what my schools have taught me.

It was mentioned in the webcast that maybe it is better to think, oh, that is an interesting perspective instead of, is that the right reading? I immediately thought: I’d rather be curious than “right,” and was surprised at the truth of it. I realised that that’s the attitude that I have since adopted, and wow, how the world unfolds before you once you let it.

Lastly, some more highlights:

  • On the question of whether a poem is a jumping point for feeling and thought: “Pay attention to your visceral reaction to poems.
  • On liking something, whether in poetry or in life: “Don’t short-shrift it. Ask yourself questions.
  • On Dickinson being a truth-teller: “Here is the truth; everyone should have access to it.
  • In line with that, another student from Twitter mentioned something about a trichotomy, that aside from there being a truth-teller and a truth-receiver, there is also a truth-bearer, which I find poignant and true.
  • Al says, “We must take responsibility of the form of what we say. [We have] an ethical responsibility of the way we use our language. We should stop thinking that the substance of what we say is all that matters. We should stop believing that the substance of what we say is sufficient.” (I’m paraphrasing and also taking notes from other student’s interpretations.) I love how we are taken to task about how we say things. I find that to be really important. This is one of those moments in ModPo (of which there must have been hundreds) where I pick something up and feel that I can use it not only to inform my ways of being a reader but also to improve my life and make it more meaningful, you know?
  • On poetry, on reading poems: “Why not do the work?” (“…and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”)
  • There was also a discussion about authorial intent. Is it important? What are your thoughts? As for me I am reminded by my notes from last fall. It was from Whitman’s Song of Myself, specifically the line, “You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.” We talked about how the search for meaning is the meaning.

“To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.”

– Mary Oliver, from Yes! No!

I am happy that we are Here. That we are doing This.

Poetry nerd and proud,


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